Nov 25, 2023

My Family and Other Animals

Hosanna Boulter examines how the pressure on spending time with family at Christmas can be tough to grapple with if your parents are divorced

Hosanna BoulterNews Editor

It’s November and the dread is setting in. As I write this we are 47 days away from Christmas. 

Why do I always dread Christmas, you ask? 

Because I know that I will never be able to make everyone happy. 


The funny thing is that I love Christmas time. I love the songs and ugly jumpers and roast dinners and Christmas crackers and ice skating and stockings and quality time with family who live far away and coming up with creative gift ideas. 

As much as I love Christmas, I also find it quite stressful. My parents are divorced, and they have been for most of my life. When I was younger, Christmas was decided for me — one year with one parent, the next year with the other. New Year’s Eve would be spent with whichever parent I did not spend Christmas with. 

Now that I am an adult things are a bit more complicated. I decide where I will be for Christmas and I want to spend New Year’s Eve with my friends. This means that I have even less time to squeeze everyone in. My holidays are a scheduling nightmare. Do I drive five hours on Boxing Day to spend one night with that side of the family? Who do I go to for Christmas? How long do I stay with them? How am I going to fit everyone in over this eight-day period? Each of my parents want to do something on this day — who should I choose? 

What I do know is that whatever I choose, I will be making someone unhappy. Unless I could cut myself in half and be in two places at once, I will be disappointing someone. Sometimes I find the weight of my decisions really overwhelming. 

The amount of pressure we place on Christmas Day is immense — people slave over food and worry endlessly about if they have brought the right presents. Christmas is supposed to be the “best day of the year”. Christmas is supposed to bring everyone together, but what happens if it can’t? 

Like everyone else my parents want to have the people they love the most with them on these very special days, and the people they love the most are their children. It’s only natural, but since my family is not one of those divorced families who unites for the holidays, the period leading up to Christmas is, for me, one of awkward conversations and difficult decisions. 

Christmas Day itself takes on a different feeling. Wherever I am my mind is partly elsewhere, thinking about the parent who is without us and knowing how that makes them feel. 

Trying to schedule a video time on Christmas Day with the other parent is another headache. For example: shall we call at midday? No, we are going to church, how about 10 am? No, can’t, we are opening stockings then, does 1pm work? No, your grandmother can’t have a late Christmas dinner anymore so we are having ours early, could you do 3pm? No, that’s when we are sitting down to eat. It often ends up being a hurried call with the other parent awkwardly coming in after 15 minutes to tell me that we really need to get in the car to go to Aunt Daisy’s now. 

I sometimes feel that I never get to fully participate in either family’s Christmas celebrations. Whilst they spend the whole time together, I will probably have arrived late and have to leave early. Funny things will happen and inside jokes will be created that I am left out of or have to ask to be explained to me. It’s not personal at all, and I know that, but it can make me feel like a bit of an outsider in both families. 

This doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate that other families don’t find Christmas to be a scheduling nightmare too, especially if people live far away or certain people don’t get along very well. What sets my Christmas apart is that firstly, my reality of Christmas time is not going to change or get easier. If anything, as my grandparents age and my family gets bigger with the addition of partners and their families, it is becoming more difficult.

I also find that my Christmas experience is quite solitary. Yes, I have a sibling who will be with me pretty much all the time throughout this period, but it is just the two of us who share these experiences. We travel together between our families by ourselves. Another potential issue arises if you and your sibling disagree over which family’s events to go to, or if there is an event they can’t make. This is awkward as you will spend part of the family get-together answering questions about your siblings whereabouts. 

Beginning with less time with either family can also make the time you do spend with each quite intense as they want to make the most of the time they have with you. This is, obviously, a lovely sentiment, but can mean that you have little time to decompress and fully unwind, and you may feel quite guilty taking this time. 

I am so lucky to have two parents who love me so much and two families who are super eager to spend time with me. My reasons for wanting to write this piece are purely to help start a conversation about the realities of not having a “conventional” family and to make people who sometimes dread the “best day of the year” feel a bit less alone. 

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